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Buccaneers of the Week: at Colts

Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best during Sunday’s 38-31 win over Indianapolis?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a much-needed get-right game against the Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 11, the Buccaneers returned to the field on Sunday afternoon for a tough Week 12 road battle against the red-hot Colts.

After a slow start that saw them go down 24-14 heading into halftime, the Bucs came back and took advantage of timely turnovers to turn the tide in the second half, holding a 31-24 lead late in the fourth quarter. A 10-play, 75-yard drive by Indianapolis tied the game with 3:29 to go, but Tampa Bay’s offense responded, finding the end zone with 20 seconds left. One final turnover sealed the deal and got Tampa Bay to 8-3 ahead of a trip to Atlanta in Week 13.

Before we move ahead to the Bucs’ second meeting with the Falcons, we have Buccaneers of the Week points to award. So, let’s get to it.

A reminder of how this works: Each week, I’ll rank the top five Bucs of the Week and assign them point values, which will determine their place in the “Buccaneers of the Week Standings.” No. 5 gets one point, No. 4 gets two and so on. The 2018 Buccaneer of the Year was Mike Evans, while Shaquil Barrett was the 2019 Buccaneer of the Year. In 2020, Tom Brady was the Buccaneer of the Year and, for the first time ever, we had a Buccaneers of the Playoffs series that ended with Devin White earning the top spot. OK, let’s get it going. But first...

Honorable Mentions

Tom Brady wasn’t his typical dominant self, but he still did what he needed to do to get the win. He completed 25 of his 34 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown while also throwing an interception that wasn’t truly on him… Ronald Jones II once again got limited carries, but he made the most of them, rushing for 31 yards and a touchdown on seven carries… In his return to action, Scotty Miller drew a key pass interference call in the second half in addition to recovering a fumble as a gunner on special teams…

Lavonte David was a key part of the Buccaneer defensive effort on Sunday, totaling seven tackles (five solo), a tackle for loss, a pass defended and a fumble recovery… Antoine Winfield Jr. made one of the best interceptions you’ll see this year, coming down with a deep pass intended for Michael Pittman Jr., who has a good five or six inches on the Tampa Bay safety… Pierre Desir struggled throughout the day, but he did come through with a last-second interception to seal a win over his former team… Ndamukong Suh recorded a sack of Carson Wentz in the first half… Vita Vea was key for the Buccaneer run defense, and he came away from the game with what may become an iconic moment in franchise history. After having his tooth knocked out on a play, he came to the sideline smiling, creating an image that surely won’t be forgotten any time soon.

OK, now on to the points.

5. Offensive Line (One point)

Shorthanded and facing a tough Indianapolis front, the Buccaneer offensive line stepped up in a big way on Sunday afternoon. Without the All-Pro-caliber Ali Marpet, it was supposed to be Aaron Stinnie filling in at left guard. However, Stinnie left the game early with a knee injury, forcing Nick Leverett into the first game action of his NFL career. He wasn’t perfect, allowing a sack and getting flagged, but he played admirably in a tight spot. In fact, Bruce Arians said he earned a game ball for his relief efforts and Tom Brady had praise for him in his postgame press conference. But Leverett wasn’t the only standout on the offensive line, as the whole unit played well—especially in the run game. And, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system, the offensive line had two of the five highest-graded players on the team in Sunday’s game. Donovan Smith (84.5) was the fourth-highest-graded Buc, while Tristan Wirfs (80.1) was No. 5. The unit as a whole has been solid in 2021 and for the performance it put together without one of its key figures in Marpet, it gets another Buccaneers of the Week point to move up a spot in the season standings.

4. Mike Edwards (Two points)

There’s really not enough that can be said about the job that Mike Edwards has done when called upon this season. Given the laundry list of injuries that the Tampa Bay secondary has endured this season, Edwards has been thrust into a number of different roles. Lately, he’s been playing in the slot—and playing well in that role. He was a significant part of the win on Sunday afternoon, first forcing a first-half fumble that led to Tampa Bay’s first touchdown of the day. The offense had been struggling, but with the short field that came as a result of Edwards’ big play, it found the end zone. In addition to the forced fumble and his two passes defended, the third-year pro came through in a big way in the final 20 seconds of the game. After the Bucs took a 38-31 lead, Isaiah Rodgers returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards before Edwards was able to chase him down and force him out of bounds thanks to an excellent effort. Then, on the last-second Hail Mary attempt, he boxed out the receiver and allowed Pierre Desir to come up with the game-ending interception. With two points in the standings, he’s up to No. 8 in the season table.

3. Rob Gronkowski (Three points)

When he returned to the field last Monday night, Rob Gronkowski made an immediate impact. There’s a reason he earned three Buccaneers of the Week points from that win over New York, as his presence in the offense was apparent all night long. The unit just looked different with the future Hall of Fame tight end on the field, then he came up with an even more impressive performance on Sunday against the Colts. Gronkowski was the team’s leading receiver, catching seven of his 10 targets for 123 yards. His average of 17.6 yards per catch only tells part of the story, as he came up with big catch after big catch. On the team’s first scoring drive of the day, he caught a 10-yard pass to get things going. The next touchdown drive saw him catch two passes for 41 yards, then an 11-yard catch on a crucial 3rd & 8 in the third quarter kept the offense on the field for what turned out to be another touchdown drive. Two more catches for another 41 yards set up the Bucs’ fourth touchdown. Truly, when there was a play to be made, it was often Gronkowski there to make it. And for that, he gets another three points to move into a fourth-place tie in the Bucs of the Week Season Standings.

2. Shaquil Barrett (Four points)

Tampa Bay’s defense was problematic for much of Sunday’s game, but it came up with some timely plays to keep the team in the game—and eventually seal the win. There perhaps wasn’t a bigger play than the one Shaquil Barrett made in the third quarter. His sack-fumble, which he recovered himself, proved to be the turning point in the game. The Bucs were down 24-14 at halftime and the Colts opened the second half with what looked to be a promising drive. But after they drove to Tampa Bay’s 20-yard line, Barrett did what he does best. He fought his way through and knocked the ball loose from Carson Wentz’s hand, then recovered it. Instead of Indianapolis potentially taking a 27-14 or 31-14 lead, the Bucs got the ball back—thanks to Barrett—and made the most of it by scoring a touchdown to get within three points. It was the edge rusher’s biggest play of the day but it wasn’t his only one, as he registered his first sack of the game in the first quarter to help ensure that the Colts didn’t get any points off of a Buccaneer fumble. Finishing with a team-high eight tackles (five solo), two key sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, Barrett gets four big Bucs of the Week points to slide up into sixth in the season standings.

1. Leonard Fournette (Five points)

There can’t be any surprise with who lands at the top of the list this week. Leonard Fournette (a.k.a. Playoff Lenny, a.k.a. Lombardi Lenny, a.k.a. Regular Season Lenny) became Lucas Oil Lenny on Sunday afternoon for his dazzling performance at Lucas Oil Stadium. Coming into the game, all of the talk was about Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, the NFL’s leading rusher. However, it was Fournette who was the story of the day, upstaging Taylor by rushing for 100 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries while catching seven of his eight targets for 31 yards and a fourth touchdown. His four-touchdown day was just the third in Buccaneer history, as he joined Jimmie Giles and Doug Martin as the only players in franchise history to accomplish the feat in a single game. For much of the day, the former Jacksonville Jaguar was fighting for tough yard after tough yard. He was already having a great day before Tampa Bay’s final drive, but he cemented himself as the man of the day on the game-winning possession. After a big 11-yard run on 1st & 15 early in the drive, he fought through for runs of 13 and eight yards before breaking off a 28-yard touchdown with 20 seconds to go. On a day that saw the offense struggle at times, Fournette was the key cog in the machine. He scores the full five points this week to move back ahead of Mike Evans for the No. 2 spot in the Buccaneers of the Week Season Standings.

2021 Buccaneers of the Week Standings through Week 12:

  1. Tom Brady — 33 points
  2. Leonard Fournette — 21 points
  3. Mike Evans — 19 points
  4. Chris Godwin/Rob Gronkowski — 12 points
  5. Antonio Brown — 10 points
  6. Shaquil Barrett — 9 points
  7. Antoine Winfield Jr./Devin White — 7 points
  8. Mike Edwards— 6 points
  9. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka/Vita Vea/Jason Pierre-Paul/Tyler Johnson — 4 points
  10. Ryan Succop — 3 points
  11. Giovani Bernard/Cyril Grayson Jr./Lavonte David/Offensive Line — 2 points
  12. Carlton Davis/William Gholston — 1 point